ESA astronaut Frank De Winne, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk have launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 10:34 GMT on Wednesday, with their Soyuz TMA-15 scheduled to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) at 12:36 GMT on Friday 29 May – marking the start of six crew operations on the orbital outpost.
The trio join Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, NASA astronaut Michael Barratt and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, with De Winne becoming Flight Engineer as a member of the Expedition 20 crew, reporting to Expedition 20 Commander Gennady Padalka.
With a rotation of three of the six crewmembers due in October, De Winne will take over as Commander of the Expedition 21 crew until his return to Earth in November. He is the first European to take on this role.
De Winne’s is conducting his second spaceflight after taking part in the Odissea mission to the ISS from 30 October to 10 November 2002. He will be joined on the ISS by Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who will fly as mission specialist on the 11-day STS-128 mission scheduled for August 2009.
Dr. Thirsk flew as a payload specialist aboard space shuttle mission STS-78 in 1996, the Life and Microgravity Spacelab (LMS) mission. During this 17-day flight aboard Columbia, he and his six crewmates performed 43 international experiments devoted to the study of life and materials sciences.
In 2004, Dr. Thirsk trained at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow and became certified as a Flight Engineer for the Soyuz spacecraft. He served as backup Flight Engineer to European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Roberto Vittori for the Soyuz 10S taxi mission to the ISS in April 2005. During the 10-day mission, Dr. Thirsk worked as Crew Interface Coordinator (i.e. European CapCom) at the Columbus Control Centre in Germany.
“Witnessing this launch is a great moment a moment of accomplishments that opens up new opportunities and projects us all in the full exploitation of the ISS in preparation of new exploration missions to other destinations. I am looking forward to a full 6 crew onboard the ISS for a full exploitation of its scientific potential and to carry out activities in preparation of missions to future destinations,” said Simonetta di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight.
“Last year Columbus and the Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne have demonstrated the reliability and the capability of the European Space Agency in the International Space Station endeavour. The European scientific laboratories and instruments on board Columbus are now operated on a daily basis, controlled from the Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen (Germany),” added said ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
“The crew of six will provide much more resources on board to make scientific and technological progress. The presence of two ESA astronauts on board the ISS this year – Frank de Winne and Christer Fuglesang – will bring a European touch to that crew.
“Even more, for the first time, the five partners of the ISS – USA, Russia, Canada, Japan and ESA – are all represented in the crew of six. I wish all of them a successful mission and I am confident that they will give once more proof that space is where international cooperation can express itself at its best, for the benefit of all of us, citizens on the Earth.”
The efforts to approve a six person crew was a logistical marathon, with consumables being the main factor to take into consideration. One of specific concerns related to water supplies for the six person crew, and the need to have a green light to consume recycled waste water from the recently installed Urine Process Assembly (UPA) – which finally received a go for crewmembers to use as drinking water.
“UPA In Flight Maintenance (IFM): This week the crew was successful at removing the malfunctioning check valve from the UPA. After reassembling and reconnecting the system components, a test was run and it appears that the UPA is once again fully functional,” noted May 26’s ISS 8th Floor News (MOD memo) on L2.
“This of course is of great interest in terms of supporting the full complement of 6 crew once the 19S Soyuz arrives. Since there is a slight chance of a subsequent failure in the peristaltic pump which could allow backflow of water into the Distillation Assembly, the flight control team will command the system to shutdown between processing cycles which protects the system from this potential backflow.
“A software patch scheduled for May 28th uplink will relieve the flight control team from taking this manual action. After completion of the first processing cycle, the crew disconnected the EDV-U jumper and connected the Waste and Hygiene Compartment (WHC) urine jumper to the UPA. The crew was then given a Go to use the WHC.
“Later in the day, Flight Controllers, Specialists from Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), ISS Management personnel and the Crew made a toast, via videocon and downlinked via space/ground, to the new Water Recovery System (WRS) and the GO for the crew to drink the ISS water. Cheers!”
De Winne – who is taking part in the OasISS mission – will also be the main operator of the Japanese robotic arm and will be one of the two astronauts who will berth the HII-Transfer Vehicle (HTV) to the ISS using the Station’s robotic arm when the Japanese cargo spacecraft arrives at the ISS in September.
Good news was reported on another key robotic element for the Station, via the Canadian Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM) “Dextre” – who’s role will be vital for the long-term health of the ISS, with his capabilities including the removal and replacement of dexterous compatible Orbit Replaceable Units (ORUs), along with the servicing of scientific payloads.
Supporting EVA-based maintenance is also part of its role, along with the preposition of ORUs or Integrated Assemblies, the provision of lighting and camera support, actuating external mechanisms, performing inspection tasks, and extending the reach of the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System).
“Ground Controllers (ROBO) conducted another SPDM On-Orbit Checkout Requirements (OCR) in preparation for the Remote Power Control Module (RPCM) swap operation currently scheduled for Increment 20,” added the 8th Floor. “The main objective was to perform an automatic grasp operation.
“Ground controllers maneuvered the SPDM body and arm 1, while based on the Mobile Remote Servicer (MRS) Base System (MBS), and positioned the arm1 end-effecter over the Robot Micro Conical Tool (RMCT)-1. After calibrating the arm1 force/moment sensor, ROBO then maneuvered the arm over the micro fixture, and executed an auto-grasp with Force/Moment Accommodation (FMA) enabled.
“The team then opened the grippers, backed off the fixture, and the SPDM arm1 and body were re-stowed. This was the first time that we have actually grappled hardware with the SPDM so this is considered to be a major step on the road to our first R&R. Congratulations to Sarmad Aziz and the entire team for this significant achievement.”